What Is An EMT?
Emergency medical technicians serve crucial roles in the healthcare system. As the first to arrive on scene, EMTs support doctors and law enforcement officials with emergency services in times of crisis. EMTs also provide safe, assisted transportation of patients to medical facilities as needed. These professionals typically can evaluate patient condition, stabilize fractures, use ventilation devices to maintain breathing and administer basic medications. EMTs need to follow proper safety procedures to protect themselves and patients.
EMT programs help to prepare students for high pressure careers assisting patients in the field. The required level of training may lead to opportunities for basic, intermediate or advanced-level EMTs and paramedics. Specific duties beyond patient transport vary according to state regulations, but paramedics generally can undertake more advanced activities, for example, performing blood transfusions, administering intravenous medications and using equipment such as EKG monitors. The graduated nature of EMT training, certification and licensure offers a clear path through the various career roles. For more information, see our EMT-Paramedics career page.
EMT Program Information
Institutions including state universities, community colleges and trade schools offer various degrees of EMT training, as well as the continuing education courses that may be required after graduation. Distance learning EMT schools tend to offer hybrid programs combining in-person exercises and testing with online instruction.
Basic EMT training covers content such as anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, basic life support, ambulance operations, and care for pediatric and OB/GYN emergencies. Students typically undertake a clinical rotation for practice and also "ride-along" observation in emergency response vehicle. Intermediate or enhanced EMT courses could explore pharmacology, venous access, history taking, traumatic emergencies and other topics. Most EMTs also pursue specialized training for ambulance drivers.
EMTs must undergo formal training and obtain a license, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians certifies professionals across the country, and the examination has both written and practical sections. States may accept the NREMT as qualification for licensing, or they may require candidates to pass state examinations. (bls.gov/ooh)
EMT Program Types
Most EMT schools offer modular training courses that match the various degrees of NREMT certification. Prerequisites may include a high school diploma (or the equivalent), a minimum age, a physical examination, proof of immunizations, drug testing, a background check, proof of health insurance and cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification. Types of programs include these:
- Certificate: The length of these programs varies. Students in hybrid programs can potentially earn a certificate over the course of three to six months by blending formal training with supervised field internship experience.
- Associate Degree: Students may be able to complete this program in approximately two years. Many students use this coursework toward their goal of converting a Basic EMT certification into Advanced EMT or Paramedic certification.
- Bachelor's Degree: EMT training is one part of a broader approach, often focused on public health administration or emergency management. Students who can apply credits from associate degree studies could accelerate their completion of these typically four-year programs. Graduates can combine their formal training with EMT experience to pursue management roles in healthcare companies or with public agencies.
EMT Course Descriptions
The EMT curriculum may vary between programs and schools. The various levels of EMT courses, such as basic or enhanced EMT studies, tackle different subjects. Common courses could include the following:
- Patient Assessment: Students can study how to evaluate patients and triage victims during emergencies.
- Emergency Management: Courses explore first response procedures and discuss how to secure accident scenes, mitigate natural disasters and combat the immediate effects of terrorist attacks.
- Healthcare Technology: Ambulances carry equipment that can save patients' lives before they reach the hospital. Students can learn when and how to operate crucial tools and machines.
- Public Health Management: Often found in bachelor's degree programs, these studies may focus on broader causes for illness and injury, helping students put their work in context.
Courses may be designed to help prepare EMTs to pass certification exams. More advanced classes may cultivate management skills useful in potential leadership roles in public organizations and at private healthcare employers.
Related Career Options
EMTs can explore diverse employment situations, especially in metropolitan areas with specialized healthcare providers and emergency service units. For example, EMTs with basic skills can work for private ambulance services, assisted living facilities and healthcare operations that transport patients in non-life-threatening situations. With advanced training, EMTs can seek jobs as emergency responders with government agencies and relief organizations.
Emergency medical technicians may pursue various related occupations, depending on the required education and experience. Potential career options include:
- Emergency Management Directors: These managers create plans for responses to natural and other disasters, and they usually have a bachelor's degree as well as experience and training in the field of disaster preparedness.
- Firefighters: These professionals respond to fires and other emergency situations, and they may be the first personnel to arrive in cases of accidents or emergencies.
- Registered Nurses: RNs oversee a wide range of patient care activities and offer support for patients and their families. These nurses may have a nursing diploma or an undergraduate degree in nursing.
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information about emergency medical technician training programs:
EMTs and Paramedics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
Emergency Management Directors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
What is EMS?, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, 2013